The Meteor

The Newsletter of the Astronomical Society of Greenbelt

  July 2012

  1. The Meteor is the official publication of the Astronomical Society of Greenbelt, Greenbelt, MD. Articles & other contributions are welcome. 
  2. Membership in the Astronomical Society of Greenbelt is open to anyone interested in astronomy. The Astronomical Society of Greenbelt is a not-for-profit community-based organization with the goal of encouraging public interest in science & education in general, astronomy in particular. More detailed information on our club's activities & organization can be found elsewhere at our website.
  3. The editor of this newsletter, Craig Levin, can be contacted at clevin AT Unless specified otherwise, all items in this newsletter were written by the editor.

Editor's Notes

The July days are scorchers, but the cool of the night reveals the gems at the heart of the Milky Way, such as the Trifid Nebula & the Great Hercules Cluster. Yet, we struggle to see these famous features through the gunk that infests the night air: Not just the exhaust from the internal combustion engines which power cars, trucks, & other elements of our modern lives, not just crud from the smokestacks of power plants, but light pollution. This month, the New Deal Cafe & this society are teaming up to screen the award-winning film on light pollution, "The City Dark" on the 16th.

We will be moving our meetings to the Greenbelt Community Center for the summer, as the staff of the Owens will take a well-earned vacation from educating tomorrow's astronomers.

Elected officers for 2011-2012



Email Address


Martha Gay AT


Ray Stevens

stvns.jacht AT


Cleton Henry

Cleton.Henry AT


Sue Bassett

wb3enm AT

Astronomical Events Around Greenbelt in July 2012






















Star Party at Northway

9:30 PM



"The City Dark"


New Deal Cafe

7 PM











Meeting at GCC

7:30 PM



Star Party at Northway

9 PM




For other astronomical events in the DC area, see: Astronomy in DC

Star Party & Business Meeting Reports

June 4 (Officers’ Meeting): Ray, Martha, Doug, Cleton, Liz, & I were at the officers’ mtg.

1) Aug. mtg.: Movie? More expensive than planned. Craig will present a lecture on 19th cent. space art. He’ll do the South Seas presentation the next month.

2) Other speakers? Nothing interests grad students like free food! Other people may speak with local scientists (for instance, Dr. Carruthers at HU).

3) Observatory report from Doug: Declination clutch for the observatory needs work, telescope needs rebalancing, & the city sign needs to be looked at, too.

4) Recruitment-family friendly projects for the summer? Family stuff for the star parties? Better publicity in local media?

June 5 (Transit of Venus): The aforementioned, plus Carol, joined the Goddard Astronomy Club, Patty Seaton from the Owens, & a throng of hundreds at the visitors’ center at GSFC. While we appear to have been clouded out, people could enjoy transmissions from observatories more fortunately placed, SOHO, & SDO. There were activities on the grounds for children & a couple of lectures in the center for all ages.

June 9 (Star Party): (from Martha) The telescope and mount worked. Can't say the same for the operator, who got up there in the dome and was clearly directionally challenged. We had seven people show up. Alan Whittemore, Mike Chesnes, Liz Suckow (Mike's girlfriend, I think) (Yes-ed.)and two couples. Conditions were far from ideal. It was very clear, but there was a lot of light scatter due to moisture in the atmosphere. Temperature was high enough that there wasn't a lot of dew, but it was bright out there. Limiting magnitude (for my eyes) was about 3.5.

I found Saturn reasonably quickly (could have used a working Telrad). Everyone was delighted. Then my troubles started. I calibrated RA based on Saturn (I'd looked it up earlier). Thought I'd try for the Hercules cluster. It's big and bright enough that at least I would know if I'd found it. I had hopes it might even show up in the finder. Using the setting circles I ended up nowhere near it. So went to Vega, recalibrated the setting circles, and tried again. Nada. Not even close. It's annoying when the RA marker is under the arm of the mount, by the way. Mike thought we might have better luck with M4, due to its proximity to Antares. We probably spent an hour looking for it. Alan finally came up and found it, but it was DIM. We all admired it. I muttered about "averted imagination". We closed up about midnight.

Fortunately there was a guy there with a refractor set up who was able to find things and show them to people.

The battery that powers the lights probably needs a charge.

I wasn't impressed with the new eyepiece. Used the Pentax 14mm that I brought.

June 23 (Star Party): (from Doug) It was a surprisingly good night. We had 2-3 visitors, including a lady from the News Review. I showed her the moon, Mars, and Arcturus. We were looking for the Ring when she left. Another fellow didn't bring his scope, but stayed down with Martha and one of our regulars. They were looking at Saturn and Albireo, among other things. Limiting Magnitude was about 3. I closed at 10:30.

Venus Transit & Our Western Travel Adventure

by G.W. Gliba

Thanks to all who attended the NASA/GSFC Visitor's Center Venus Transit Star Party, especially members of the GAC, and its sister organization, ASG. Unfortunately, it was almost completely clouded-out, except for a few brief moments, when a few folks managed to spot Venus in front of the Sun.  Lynne and I were lucky to see it at Mt. Wilson Observatory in California, under mostly clear skies. We saw the 2004 Venus Transit from Northway Fields, in Greenbelt, Maryland and decided it was a perfect excuse to travel out west to see some things we had always wanted to see anyway, and also visit some family and friends who are not getting any younger.

By chance, while we were at Mt. Wilson with our California friend Candice, we were able to attend a special star party sponsored by the Antique Telescope Society, and Astronomers Without Boarders. We were able to see the transit with several fully restored brass Alvan Clark, John Brashear, and Henry Fitz refractors, which gave us nice views of the transit, and mingle with the crowd, talking to the president of Astronomers Without Boarders, Mike Simmons, and Sky & Telescope associate editor Dennis di Cicco. The biggest scope at the star party was a horizontal 13-inch F/15 Henry Fitz refractor fed by a heliostat, that gave great views of the transit.

As good as observing the transit with these vintage refractors was, the best view was up the mountain with the famous 150 Foot Solar Tower Telescope. This scope was celebrating its centennial, having been built in 1912 by George E. Hale. It has a 12-inch F/150 Brashear Achromatic Objective, that gives a large 16-inch prime focus Solar Image. They have drawn the sunspots visible with this instrument every clear day for a century, but this was the first Venus Transit seen by this scope, because they couldn't see the 2004 transit, and the observatory wasn't yet built in 1882. While there, I ran into Dennis di Cicco again, and he introduced me to longtime Sky & Telescope editor, retired Roger W. Sinnott. We also saw the outside of the famous 60-inch reflector, and were able to go up to the visitor's lobby to see the famous 100-inch Hooker reflector, once the largest telescope in the world, behind glass windows. It was a great experience.

The summit of Mt Wilson was actually the end of our long vacation, that started when we flew into Austin, Texas to meet with Lynne's cousin Sue, and her husband Archie, at the end of May. We traveled with them for over a week, seeing many interesting sites, including Lowell Observatory, where we spent the night in Flagstaff, Arizona. At Lowell we saw the famous 24-inch Alvan Clark refractor that astronomer V.M. Slipher used to serendipitously discover the expansion of the universe 100 years ago. We also saw the 13-inch Pluto discovery telescope used by Clyde Tombaugh and Robert Burnham Jr.

On the trail nearby, Lynne and I were able to see a nice memorial erected to honor Robert Burnham Jr., the author of the classic, Burnham's Celestial Handbook. It was good to see that they did respect the accomplishments of this famous amateur astronomer after all, contrary to some rumors I heard. We went to Meteor Crater the next day, and to the ruins of H.H. Nininger's American Meteorite Museum about 6 miles away. Thanks to our intrepid driver Archie, who drove on the old section of Route #66 to get to it, off the main road. There I paid my homage to it, by walking into the sacred ruins. After that, it was on to the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forrest, and finally the Grand Canyon. We went to Hoover Dam the next day, which was interesting to see also.

When we finally got to California, we stopped for one hour, so I could hunt at Sutters Mill for meteorites. That is the location of a rare CM-type meteorite Fall on Earth Day (April 22nd), just 40 days before. I searched hard for meteorites in the 96 degree F. heat, but all I got was a sunburn. A few days later we left Sue and Archie, staying with Candice in Santa Cruz, before traveling on to Mt Wilson for the Venus Transit. It was a fun trip doing all these things, and more, and ending up seeing the transit of Venus at the location where astronomers made huge astronomical discoveries, that changed the view of our universe, during the last century. It was a perfect way to end our western adventure.